Three views out the Red Line window on the way to Wrigley.
Day 4 brought us to Chicago, where the majors' most beautiful park, Wrigley Field, hosts the majors' most disappointing team, the Cubs. The Sox were out of town when we rolled through, but honestly, if you're a baseball fan with limited time in The Chi -- and you can laugh at, rather than agonize over, the Cubbies' plight -- it would be sacrilegious not to see the ivy in the daylight, like we did while the Tigers were in town.
From the top: The hand-operated monstrosity in center; the most coveted bleacher seats in the bigs.
By Luke Winn
This is a road trip, but for old time's sake, we felt it appropriate to arrive at Wrigley via the El. Both Dan and myself received diplomas earlier in the decade from Northwestern U in Evanston, Ill., where the baseball seduction would begin each spring. On certain weekday noon-hours, a voice more direct than the one haunting Ray Kinsella would say, Ditch the backpack. Jump on the Purple Line, transfer to the Red. Off at Addison. Buy a bleacher seat, grab an Old Style. Kill the afternoon. More often than not you'd obey, and class would be skipped, because the Cubs were a mere 20 minutes down the tracks.
We left our car near the Dempster Street station in Evanston, and started out early for the 1:20 p.m. game. Whether you do this El ride once or 81 times each season, you always feel the rush when you clear the Sheridan stop, roll toward Addison, and watch as the low-slung North Side skyline breaks to yield Wrigley in full. You peer out the windows of the train car until its doors part, spilling passengers onto the platform and down into the bustling streets of Wrigleyville, the bar-district sideshow surrounding Midwestern baseball's cathedral.
The Cubs' famous bleacher seats were, like normal, sold out, so we had to shell out a considerable sum -- $60 each, $20 over face -- to get in on a Sunday. And unlike Madison's Duck Blind (from Day No. 2), the alcohol and food here was not included in the ticket price. Wrigley has changed since our college days; they've added 1,800 bleachers and upped the price by $25 despite offering an inferior on-field product to the Sosa-and-healthy-Wood days. We overheard one fan -- a large dude barely contained by his tank top -- lamenting the 2000 loss of in-seat beer sales and concurrent crackdown on rowdiness:
"Girls just don't flash anymore," he said. "We'd get kicked out!" a woman sitting nearby said. "So you'd do it otherwise?" he said. "Yeah!" she responded, almost indignant at the suggestion that she wouldn't flash if it were condoned.
And yet, sitting in the Wrigley bleachers remains a divine experience; the North Side setting is simply too beautiful, even if the women are clothed, and the Cubs pitchers -- on this day, Mark Prior -- are being shelled. It was the oft-injured Prior's first start of the season; he warmed up with his trademark towel ("If they threw towels in this league, Prior would win the Cy Young," one of our bleacher neighbors said) and then gave up three dongs in the first inning.
The lone Chicago-produced highlight in a 12-3 loss was Entourage star Jeremy Piven's intro to Take Me Out To The Ballgame, for which he went into Ari Gold mode and yelled over the P.A., "Hey Cubs fans, let's hug it out, you little bi----s!" This redeemed Piven in the eyes of the bleacher crew, most of whom had groaned earlier in the afternoon when he threw out the first pitch. Let's just say that he chucked it like a limp-armed little bi---.
Road Trip All-Star(s) No. 4: Dave and Rob, Bleacher Heckling Duo
With Marcus Thames in his sights, this Wrigley heckler let loose.
By Dan Hoyle
"Hey juicebox, you need more juice! Tell Barry he screwed you!"
These words came from Dave, one half of our All-Star heckling duo. He was leaning over the ledge in the left field bleachers, bellowing at the Tigers' Marcus Thames while the immediate audience, a ring of fans a couple of rows deep, bobbed with laughter.
"Marcus!" yelled Rob, who stood next to Dave, in the same position, holding an identical cup of beer. "Tell [centerfielder Curtis] Gunderson you use planes now; he's still takin' the bus!"
The hecklers, the class clowns of the crowd, are essential to any major league game, but at Wrigley, they are outfield institutions: The Bleacher Bums. Dave and Rob, who matched their innings with beers, were on fire. For a heckler, it's not so much what they say, but how they say it; the more desperate and pathetic it sounds, the better. Truth is irrelevant; the comedy is in the depravity, and the quality is in the psychological complexity.
"Hey Gunderson, Marcus has got your back!" Rob yelled. "If you can't make it to the ball, Marcus'll catch it!" Thames hears this, and rocks back in laughter.
Alex, the heckling apprentice.
The heckler's ultimate goal is acknowledgement from a player, and Dave and Rob were carrying on a conversation with Thames that started in the 5th inning. The Tigers were up 10 runs in the 8th, and Thames seemed to be enjoying his afternoon in their company. When weak-hitting Cubs centerfielder Juan Pierre stepped to the plate with two outs, Dave proffered some advice:
"Marcus, you’re too deep! It’s Juan P, scoot up!"
Thames looked over his shoulder, grinned, and took two dramatic steps forward. The left-field heckler HQ went wild.
Between barbs, I asked Dave and Rob to share their strategies.
"Not caring,” Dave said. "Quick responses and not caring," Rob said. "And drinking all those beers," added Alex, Dave's young heckling apprentice, who had been observing and dropping in a few lines of his own. He was nearly a decade from 21, but he was taking notes. In the 9th, with the score 12-2 in Detroit's favor, they both inside-outted their Cubs caps, rally-style. True hecklers may lose their voices, but they never lose hope.
Day 4: The Road Official Soundtrack
Before leaving New York, I made the effort of assembling a short baseball playlist on the old iPod. In theory, this was cool; once actually playing through the car stereo on our way out of Chicago, it was painfully cheesy. Everything except for the Earl Weaver track (which you really should not listen to if you're under 18); of that, I never tire. Here's the list:
1. Centerfield by John Fogerty We used to play this, superstitiously, before every game during my junior season of club ball at Northwestern. Embarrassing, but it was surprisingly effective.
2. Did You See Jackie Robinson, by Buddy Johnson and Count Basie. Not Basie's finest hour, but it's catchy; real vintage baseball music.
3. The Manager's Corner, With Earl Weaver Earl lays down two-and-a-half classic, profanity-laden minutes of a spoof pre-game show. His advice on tomato plants is especially insightful. Just Google "Earl Weaver tirade." You'll find it.
4. Retro This Week In Baseball Theme The one with the violins and Harry Kalas' famous call: "The 3-0 pitch. Swing and a long drive. There it is! No .500 for Michael Jack Schmidt!"
5. Talkin' Baseball by Terry Cashman Here's where I strongly considered switching away to, say, actual music -- but I held on to hear the classic closer:
6. Roll Out The Barrel (traditional) The best three words in seventh inning stretch history, playing nightly at Miller Park: "Zing, Boom, Ta-ra-rel."
Now it's time to roll the barrel, and move on to Indiana. - Luke Winn